Your heart belongs to me, baby

By Anna Chastain

The best first entrance in the play belongs to something called a SmartLight: a large piece of electrical equipment encased in a chic black exterior, blessed with certain 360Ex panoramic abilities, and expensive enough to make itself the center of attention. At itƒ?TMs first appearance it is initially confined to a large orange box with InterPlantaAr stamped on the side, escorted in by three guards in puffy face masks, unflattering pants and varying shades of blue. From there it takes its position above the stage, extending down from a metal pole, and is the only real indication weƒ?TMre in anything close to SciFi. Weƒ?TMre in a slummy apartment in Bombay as the curtain rises. And however many years this is on from now, not much has changed. Thereƒ?TMs some rusty plumbing sticking out of the faux-concrete and a green mattress with white trim that sags a lot in the middle and which, by implication, sleeps four. There is the ubiquitous red cooler. The bathroom is still two floors below and evidently the redundant technology trickled down to the landfill, not to the homes of the not-quite-working poor. Although, in this future where the height of sophistication is a two-way video communication system and someone is willing to support a whole family in their own home (not to mention renovate it) for a kidney, you wonder where advancing technology and stem cells slipped the rail.

Every character onstage, save one, was sporting a mask. This did not impress me. The play starts on a well-defined note of despair and its credentials as a comedy more or less die right there, with Om (Siddharth Akali) narrating the compelling tale of the mass hysteria which led to his new job as organ donor. Akali has a series of insignificant nervous hand gestures, which play very well. He also gets the best mask. His mother (Kira Puett) is what might be termed over-fond of her son, saying at one point, ƒ?oeLet me kiss you, and fondle your ears.ƒ?? His wife, Jaya (Rebecca Morales), compensates for this with her garboesque penchant for being alone, something, as the pre-intermission act wound to a close, she had yet to achieve. Morales does well in the awkward and stifling atmosphere of the apartment, in her interactions with her husband and mother-in-law, but seems distressed in the face of her actual love interest, her brother-in-law Jeetu (Hector Pascual Alvarez), a character so charming he calls her his ƒ?oelongtime clientƒ?? and who likes to dwell on the fact heƒ?TMs a male prostitute at some length and in an unusually loud voice. Itƒ?TMs hard to tell if her withdrawal from his proximity is meant as a nervous symptom of attraction to him or is just anyoneƒ?TMs natural first reaction. They have a bit of very unsexual sexual interaction while talking about health food. Morales and Pascal Alvarez are also blessed with very similar hair.

But coming back to the SmartLight: its way paved much earlier by guards wielding aerosol disinfectant spray (which is more of a hard-core air freshener as it wafts out over the audience), the SmartLight jolts to life about midway through the first half and directs a bright white (later blue) beam of light at whoever itƒ?TMs supposed to be looking at. Functioning within the script as a two-way communication tool it, in practice, isnƒ?TMt responsible for the projected image of the donor recipient on the flat screen above the stage. This is a woman named Ginni (Jenna Johnson), an American who has a preoccupation with pinning people down beneath the SmartLight and talking at them loudly and very fast. Her latent vampirism (though one is not encouraged to presuppose sheƒ?TMs just after blood) is not left to individual surmise but is baldly stated in the script, as is the fact sheƒ?TMs remarkably chirpy for someone needing any sort of organ transplant. Thereƒ?TMs a general lack of subtlety in the script. Ginni is the one who undertakes the mini-renovation effort that makes itself felt at the scene change. Charity, of course, not being charity at all but expecting concrete material return. Thereƒ?TMs a polemic aspect to the play which helps explain how it fails to marry well into its SciFi and comedic aspirations. It also helps explain the louder-is-better approach of some of the scenes. It does not, exactly, for me, make these things O.K.

At intermission the guards come forth again to revamp the apartment. The green mattress gives place to a well-worn, and petite, pink sofa. A toilet box and a mottled glass (or plastic) self-enclosed shower are positioned near the door and the kitchen experiences another upgrade. Jaya remarks before intermission that ƒ?oethereƒ?TMs no room to sneeze anymoreƒ?? in the apartment, but by all indications there is about as much room as there was before, the sofa taking up less space than the green mattress did. Itƒ?TMs unclear if the curtain will come down for the scene change at intermission, though with the lights low this is one play that wouldnƒ?TMt need the curtain to drop. The guards, complete with mask-induced almost-Elvis hairstyles, worked steadily over the weirdly catchy I-donƒ?TMt-know-what-it-is but itƒ?TMs very at home in the 70s latter-half of the intermission music: until they began to reinforce the door and it didnƒ?TMt respond well to the drill bit. Having had, until then, a backseat role in the action, the door saw the big scene change as its chance to make its move. You might feel an urge to grasp at a similar opening. Or you might want to discover what happens in the second half.

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Harvest, by Manjula Padmanabhan, is directed by Evan Winet, and opens in the MainStage Theatre, Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Friday February 17th at 7.30. Student tickets are free and available at the door.